I couldn't wake up. Or at least, not completely. Which was strange for me, because not only did I usually sleep lightly, but I also didn't wake up slowly; the consequences of being perpetually wary. Now though; now, even though I was trying to wake up, I couldn't.
And I didn't know why.
My lungs were aching, my heart felt like it was slowly burning, and the rest of my body was so unresponsive it might as well not be my body at all; and I didn't know why. I didn't know anything. Not where I was, not why I was both numb and hurting, and not why Jake felt kind of funny through the imprint. In fact, I didn't even know where Jake was. Which really shouldn't be strange, but over the last few days I had gotten into the habit of feeling for him when I woke up, and it was more disorienting than it should be not to know. But what was even more confusing was that while I could in fact feel him, he felt both incredibly far away and extremely close; which didn't seem possible.
How could he be close and far at the same time? I didn't know, but nether-the-less it was true, and way too puzzling for my sluggish brain to compute. In fact, all of this was just bewildering, and I needed to start thinking about what I did know, instead of what didn't.
And what I did know was that I was warm. So wonderfully, reassuringly warm. The warmth was everywhere; around my waist, underneath me, enveloping me so completely that I breathed out a soft sigh as I soaked it all in. But then the warmth was moving, shifting about, and it moved into my 'didn't know' category, because since when could warmth move? Last time I checked warmth didn't gently trail through my hair or down my cheek, and it certainly didn't pull me towards it as it was currently doing now. And even though being closer to it was heavenly, confusion beat my pleasure, and with all the force I could muster, I forced my eyes open, because I needed to know what was going on.
But when I finally managed to sleepily blink my resistant eyelids open, I found myself even more perplexed.
My vision was a wash of caramel brown.
What? I blinked again, but it didn't disappear. It was still there, the only thing I could see. True, it was quite pretty, but I'd been hoping to become less confused, not more so; and more confused was certainly what I became when a familiar voice came from just above my head.
'You're awake.' I jolted in surprise, my eyes flicking upwards. I knew who the speaker was, of course, but I was still surprised to see Jake peering down at me. How the hell had I not known he was there? He was the moving warmth, his lovely tanned skin the brown I had been so baffled by. A connection I should have made instantly, but hadn't because my mind was working slower than a snail's pace. Hadn't, because even the slight movement that was my surprised jerk made me whimper slightly in pain, my heart constricting in my chest as I gasped.
'You need to rest.' Jake said softly, his face wearing a worried frown. I gave him a puzzled look, opening my mouth to disagree; I had just woken up, why did I need to sleep? But my breath before speaking made me whimper again, because the air I was sucking in felt like shards of glass down my throat. Jake's eyes darkened as he watched me, the hand that had been stroking my hair pausing and moving to rest against my cheek.
'Sleep.' He said more firmly this time, and even though I was more bewildered than ever, I found my eyes closing of their own accord. I wanted to shake my head and ask for an explanation, because I was over being confused, but my body was betraying me. It had been hard to just wake up; staying awake was another thing entirely. It shouldn't be so hard, but I just didn't have the strength. It also didn't help that Jake's warmth was just so inviting; it made me want to melt against him as it sunk into me.
And so even though my brain was trying to kick gear, I ended up doing exactly that; falling straight back into unconscious as he repeated his command for the second time, his voice nought but a whisper.
Thankfully, the next time I woke things were different; and not just because the room was darkening now from the approaching night. Things were different because this time I immediately noticed that I'd been sleeping in Jake's warm arms, and it made me to shiver slightly to think of it.
He had stayed. He had stayed and held me, and by his closed eyes and quiet breaths, had obviously fallen asleep doing so. It made my heart melt to know that he cared so much; to feel the arm around my waist tighten. He felt so good against me, his large body dwarfing mine, his heated skin the reason I was so delightfully warm. And for one wonderful moment, I could simply enjoy the pleasure of being so close to him. But too soon my mind was thinking, and thinking hard, because Jake sleeping next to me wasn't the only thing that was different.
Waking up was different because one) I knew exactly where I was and what had happened, two) I didn't have to fight just to keep myself conscious, and three) my breaths were no longer torturous, and I no longer felt as if my heart was being squeezed into non-existence. All of which were good things, but I was kind of wishing I could go back to how I had been before; because while being confused wasn't fun, it was preferable to thinking over everything that had happened. And it wasn't so much everything, but rather one particular fact, that I didn't want in my mind. One fact, with three words, that was going to destroy me.
I couldn't leave. Oh god, I couldn't leave. I clapped my hand over my mouth in horror, muffling my sad cry. Jake shifted against me slightly, and I stiffened, fearing I had woken him up; which would be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I was about to fall apart, and I knew he could keep me together. And a curse, because I didn't want him to see this; he could not see this.
I didn't want him to see me fall apart.
And so I ever so gently extracted myself from his hold, slipping quietly out of the room; only realising, as I carefully shut the door behind me, that I was trembling. But I forced myself away from the door, into the kitchen, before I let my emotions take hold of me.
And take hold of me they did.
A heaving sob escaped my lips, and I had to grip the kitchen counter to keep myself upright, my knuckles white as I did so. I was shaking, my legs struggling under the pressure, because of those three words.
I couldn't leave.
After 36 years of the opposite being true – knowing that I could not, under any circumstances, stay – the tables had been turned. And it should have been a miracle; I hadn't wanted to leave, and now I couldn't. Instead, it was a death sentence.
I only half noticed that tears were now streaming down my cheeks, dripping onto the counter below; I was too busy falling apart, trying to process it all.
I should have known this would happen. Coming here was forbidden! Yet I had thought I could keep sneaking around the rules. And now; now I was facing the consequences. Or rather, just one consequence; one that I couldn't bear to put into words.
But the worse part of all was that it was unavoidable.
I had pretty torn myself apart – and maybe Jake as well – this morning, trying to prevent this very thing from happening. Because I had thought I knew the limits of the rules, and had tried to stick to them. But now everything had changed, the rules new and dangerous, and now instead of trying to figure out a way to live through the week, I was left with nothing but the choice of how I wanted to die.
How I wanted to die.
I let out a soft cry at the words, my breath hitching in my throat as a sob escaped me. Perhaps it was bad of me to feel so distraught over impending death; I was almost seventy, and compared to most, I'd had a good life; and a long one. But that didn't change the fact that I didn't want to die, and that I was scared, so scared, knowing that it was coming for me. It was one to thing to know that death would come eventually; but whole thing entirely to know you weren't going to make it through the week.
And so maybe I was entitled to fall apart with fear from the knowledge, my grip on the counter finally failing as I slid to the floor. I wailed quietly as hit the floor, my tears fast now, pouring down my cheeks as I shook from the sobs. My nails were digging into my palms as I fought to keep the last of my control in check, but I knew it was pointless.
Because the only thing that could keep in control now was Jake, and he was still gone.
I could feel him, and not feel him; he was both near and far. And while I knew he was in my bedroom, it didn't feel like he was. It felt like he was distant, so distant; on the other side of the world distant. The loss was crippling; and it was his distance, his absence more than anything else, that pushed me over the edge.
An edge that forced me to cover my mouth with my hands as I tried to muffle my pained cries, my fearful whimpers.
This couldn't be happening. I couldn't die. I couldn't just sit around and wait for death to come to me; I physically could not do it. I had never been a waiting person; but now I was trapped, backed against the wall, and I hated it.
I had thought things were bad before. I had thought, foolishly thought, that having to leave Jake so that I could live was hard. I had hurt him, and me, doing what I knew I had to do; the only reason I had even considered hurting Jake was because the other choice was death. And so I had forced myself, torn myself apart, to save my life.
And it had all been for nothing.
The knowledge was crushing, destroying. For a while, I had no clue what was going on around me, what I was doing; my emotions were too overwhelming. Overwhelming, and consuming.
That was what I was; consumed. Consumed with pain, fear, sadness, and anger; the combination of which left me rocking backwards and forwards and I fought the urge to start banging my fists against the cupboards in front of me. But while these emotions were not about to disappear or weaken anytime soon, eventually I zoned back into the world around me; because I needed to make a choice.
A choice between bad, terrible, and unthinkable, in what was probably one of the worse situations anyone could ever end up in. And while I didn't want to make a choice, didn't want to plan how I was going to die, this choice was all I had; the only thing I had control over. And it was almost comforting to have a choice, because I had always been the chooser of my own path.
But it wasn't just that. The other thing that brought me back some measure of composure was hoping, even though I knew I shouldn't, that maybe, maybe, if I thought about it hard enough, I'd find a way out.